Saturday, January 19, 2008

Grocery Budget Tools: The Price Book

I thought I'd share more on the grocery budget this week for my Weekend Extra posting. I received a very nice e-mail after my last budget post, sharing a tool that I thought was definitely worth mentioning. I also found that people seem to appreciate any tips on saving a few dollars, so I'll be continuing with my occasional frugal postings.

So, the Price Book. I've read about this many times on different sites about trying to save money, and I've read about it in other books as well. I had been thinking that I never did a price book myself, only as it turns out, I sort of do a reverse price book. Here is how a price book works.

Essentially, you begin with a notebook, or a spreadsheet and a computer if you prefer. On the far left side of a page, you list the grocery items you buy the most (including the correct size, and brand preferred) and then you list in columns, the price of that item at different grocery stores. Here's an example:

Item Mike's Grocery Food Emporium Lilly's Organics

Stewed tomatoes-28 oz $1.09 .89 $1.79
2 pounds carrots $2.29 $2.49 $3.49
1 pound ground beef $2.29 $1.99 $2.99

The idea is then that when it's time for you to do your grocery shopping, you can make your list, dividing it up by store. Obviously, this only works if you live somewhere with grocery shopping options. You also use the sales flyers at this time as well. You can look and see who has the best sales on something, and also, you can check your price book and see if it's a better price than a regular price somewhere else. The person who originally e-mailed me about price books told me that she saved between 30-50% on her groceries by using a price book. That's incredible savings, and right there tells me it's worth trying out!

Obviously, with gas prices being what they are, using a price book is a great way to see if the great deals on the other side of town are worth the gas usage to get there. Lilly's Organics above is an excellent example of this. One or two items on sale certainly wouldn't be worth a 10 minute drive out of the way. But say they're having a super sale, plus you have a few coupons to use as well, you may very well save more money buying more of your groceries there that week. This would also be a great way to take advantage of store savings cards. Several stores around me have member cards where you get an extra discount on some items- occasionally I'll save a lot of money shopping via club cards.

So what did I mean when I say I do a Price Book in reverse? Well, after several trials at different stores, I found the store where I could do my weekly shopping in one store for the least amount of money. So for a long time, when I came home from grocery shopping, I would sit with the receipt and put all the prices into a program I have on my computer for recipe and meal planning. (Mastercook for anyone interested.) I found this was the best way that I could pre-plan a shopping trip and try to keep within my budget. Then, as each week came along, and sales flyers were around, I could check other stores and see if they had a better price on anything, and occasionally I would find it worth a trip to go to a different store to purchase the sale items that week. I've been doing this for so long, that so many things I can just tell you the price. I can look at, say, Wal-Mart at the canned tomatoes and know that the price there is easily 20 cents more than where I shop. It really helps me save money. Of course, this also means that I've definitely noticed that over the last six months literally everything has increased in price. And some things, like cereal boxes, are going up in price, while coming down in size.

I think I need to do a real price book for myself. The spreadsheet is appealing to me because I love to use my computer to organize things like that. But at the same time, I'm a paper person. I love writing in a notebook, and I easily have a dozen different notebooks floating around holding old shopping lists, menu plans, recipes, and random notes and bits. So I think that I would like to do one in a notebook. This way, my list is also portable. I can physically take it with me when I grocery shop, so when something unexpected is on sale, I can check my book and see if it truly is a good deal. I'll have to try giving this a whirl. Maybe in a few months I'll post an update and see how we do. Anyone else have thoughts on a price book? I'd love to hear it!


JEP said...

You truly are one of the most organized, frugal grocery shoppers I know! As a single person, food shopping & price considerations is a huge challenge. I'm willing to hear anyone's tips on good options!

Erika W. said...

Well, the organization is definitely a recent development. But we simply couldn't afford to not get a little organized.

I am always impressed when single people take the time to cook for themselves. I know how much easier it can be to order something in or stop by a deli on the way home because it's way easier than cooking for one. I think it's fantastic that you seem to do a lot of cooking for yourself. Obviously, it's so much better for you, and it speaks volumes that you think you're worth cooking for. :-) You cook to please yourself- how great is that! Keep it up!